Review: Crazy, Stupid, Love

(M) ****

Director: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.

Cast: Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei, Analeigh Tipton, Jonah Bobo, Kevin Bacon.

LOVE can make you stupid and crazy, but few romantic comedies have explored this idea quite as well in recent times as this multi-faceted gem.

Ficarra and Requa, fresh from mining black comedy gold with I Love Phillip Morris, add a dark tinge to this subversive rom-com.

Carell plays Cal, a long-married dag who discovers his wife Emily (Moore) has had an affair and wants a divorce.

Dejected and alone, Cal starts drinking at a local bar where he meets Jacob (Gosling), a ladies man who take pity on Cal and offers to show him the secret to reclaiming his manhood.

Meanwhile, Emily is trying to work out where she stands with Cal and her office romance (Bacon), Cal and Emily's 13-year-old son Robbie (Bobo) declares his love for the babysitter Jessica (Tipton), Jessica deals with her secret crush on Cal, and the one girl (Stone) who rejected Jacob's advances wonders where her future is headed if she stays with her boyfriend (played by singer Josh Groban in his big-screen debut).

It's a complicated mix, but Ficarra, Requa and screenwriter Dan Fogelman (Tangled, Cars) handle it perfectly, giving each character room to move and grow while keeping things focused on the hapless Cal.

It says something for the naunces of the script that Emily doesn't come off as a merely duplicituous adultress - instead she is portrayed as a confused housewife searching for direction, thanks in no small part to the exemplary talents of Moore. Likewise, Gosling's Jacob proves to be a surprise packet, showing depth beyond the potentially one-dimensional cad he could have been.

For all its heartache and heartbreak, the film is thankfully hilarious, often pulling laughs from unlikely places, such as Cal's co-workers learning of his divorce or a 17-year-old babysitter taking naked photos of herself to send to a much older man.

But the biggest laughs come when the various romantic strands reach a surprisingly and fittingly outrageous climax at the end of the second act, giving the film enough time to patch up its differences, do some soul-searching and seal it all without a cliched kiss.

Speaking of cliches, another joy of this film is that for the most part, Crazy, Stupid, Love avoids most of the all-too-common cliches of rom-coms, if only by pointing out that they are cliches. It's this kind of self-awareness and intelligence that helps elevate the movie above the usual romantic comedy dross, even if you know where it's heading and it can't help but occasionally fall back on the predictable.

But with great performances from a strong cast and a willingness not to take the easy way out or the easy laughs, Crazy, Stupid, Love shines a light on the darker side of relationships without losing its heart or becoming a total cynic.

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